Monday Musings is a collection of random thoughts and observations about the last week of activity from the hockey world with an emphasis on the Kraken and other happenings around the Puget Sound hockey community.
On the surface, a 1-2-1 week does not sound like a great week. The games on Monday and Tuesday of last week felt like an ambush and account for the two losses. On Monday, the Kraken faced the Tampa Bay Lightning at home less than 36 hours after they returned from a two-week seven-game road trip. Right after that game they would immediately jump on a plane for a road game in Edmonton the following day.
It was a tough scenario that ultimately ended with two regulation losses. Both games featured a healthy amount of “compete” from the boys, but they looked tired at times. Coming up with a win or even a point would have been nice, but just chalk it up to a challenging schedule.
Thursday night, the Kraken dominated the New Jersey Devils, but the Devils stuck around and forced overtime with an extra skater on the ice. That just prolonged the inevitable with Andre Burakovsky burying the game winner just 70 seconds into the extra frame. Then Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche was a bit of a slugfest that ended in a 2-1 shootout loss.
The last week of games could have been better, but the Kraken are 7-2-1 over their last 10 and are now sitting, by points percentage, in first place in the Pacific Division.
One of the Kraken’s strengths this season has been their health. Going into last week, Seattle was one of three teams to only suit up 23 different skaters this season. For context, Colorado, Toronto, and Columbus have each used over 30 different skaters this season. The Kraken have been remarkably healthy.
Unfortunately, we started to see some health issues pop up this week. About halfway through the Edmonton game on Tuesday, Justin Schultz took an innocuous-looking hit halfway through the second period, but he left immediately after and did not return the rest of the game. Schultz has not played in the two games since the Edmonton game. Then, in somewhat of a surprise, Andre Burakovsky was out of the lineup on Saturday night against his former team just two days after scoring the overtime game winner against the Devils.
Schultz and Burakovsky joined Jaden Schwartz who has not played since Jan. 12. All three of those guys have been significant contributors to the Kraken’s success this season and will be critical for the long-term outlook of this team. It should be noted that none of the three have been officially placed on injured reserve so maybe we should not be overly concerned here.
The All-Star break is just three Kraken games away, and with extra recovery days on the horizon, this might be the best time for minor injuries to hit.
Strength in the Pacific?
As well as the Kraken have been playing, it is important to point out that Edmonton and Calgary have also been winning. It is great to celebrate the recent success, but the Kraken cannot lift their foot off the pedal. There are teams doing everything they can to get back in the playoff hunt.
Right now, 95 points is the projected cutoff for making the playoffs. If the Kraken were to play .500 hockey the rest of the season, they would have 95 points exactly.
Other Kraken musings:
- Sunday was the Kraken’s second annual Super Skills Showcase. Anyone who attended knew exactly what it was about… the kids. It was so amazing to see how many young fans were able to attend, and it certainly seemed like there were more activities for the kids before the event this season.
- The events of the Super Skills Showcase were fun, but I enjoyed the puck juggling event last year and would have really enjoyed seeing a Ruff-Ruff Relay. Oh, well. I guess seeing Cheddar McCann was pretty cool.
- John Hayden suited up for the Kraken on Saturday night to play his first NHL game of the season. He played under nine minutes but had a golden opportunity to score a go-ahead goal in the third period on a two-on-one opportunity. He shot it wide, but that would have been quite the fun moment for Hayden who has 241 NHL games in his career.
- Hayden was reassigned to Coachella Valley on Sunday, but with three Kraken games over four days, do not be surprised to see him called back up.
- Speaking of Coachella Valley, the Kraken’s AHL affiliate is now 27-6-3 and has the best record in the AHL.
- Firebirds captain Max McCormick was named the AHL’s Player of the Week after notching four goals and four assists in three games, including a hat trick on Saturday.
- One challenging area for the Kraken this season is the faceoff circle. The Kraken have the third worst faceoff-win percentage in the league. I have mentioned him before, but Morgan Geekie’s hidden value is what he brings to the faceoff circle. He is the only right-shot center on the team which enables coach Dave Hakstol to deploy Geekie regularly when the puck is being dropped on his strong faceoff side.
- He might not make the score sheet every night, but I love watching Yanni Gourde play. He is the heart and soul of this team.
- Add Ryan Donato to the list of Kraken players that will likely have a career high in goals scored this season. He has three goals in the last two games and is just five goals away from that career mark.
- This will require a deeper dive, but both Kraken goalies are playing well right now. Since Dec. 23, Philipp Grubauer’s save percentage is .914 and Martin Jones’s is .910. The Kraken will need both goalies to play well to continue the team’s success this season.
- Speaking of goalies, Chris Driedger has been skating at Kraken Community Iceplex for some time now. I have been getting a lot of questions about what the team does when he comes back from injured reserve. The short answer is, I do not know. I expect him to still be a couple weeks away from seeing any kind of game action, but when he is ready, Seattle will more than likely put him in a conditioning stint in the AHL. From a timeline perspective, I feel he will join the Kraken’s roster after the NHL Trade Deadline, at which time the team can expand its roster size and he could be carried as the third goalie.
- Several fans have asked about trading one of the goalies. Based on contracts and the success of the team, I do not see it as a realistic scenario for any of them to be traded this season.
- With the All-Star break coming up, it is a great time to check out some WHL action. The Seattle Thunderbirds are playing excellent hockey and are currently the best team in the Western Conference. During the NHL All-Star break, the T-birds have a home-and-home series with the Everett Silvertips Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 4, and play again at home against Spokane on Sunday, Feb. 5. The Silvertips also host Red Deer on Sunday, Feb. 5.
Kraken themes for the week ahead
There is a series of interesting games coming up this week for the Kraken. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Canucks will visit Seattle to play their first road game under new head coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet interviewed with the Kraken to be their first coach, so you can imagine he might have some extra motivation that night. The Kraken are 0-5-1 all time against the Canucks, and Vancouver is one of four teams remaining that Seattle has never beaten in its brief franchise history. Those narratives aside, these are two point that the Kraken, at least on paper, should pick up.
On Friday, the division rival Calgary Flames visit Seattle. The Flames are currently outside the playoff cutoff and will feel some level of desperation to make up ground on Seattle. The Flames are the team I am paying attention to the most right now. They are on the outside of the playoff bubble and badly need points to get back in the race.
The Columbus Blue Jackets visiting Seattle will be an excellent opportunity to pick up some points. The Blue Jackets are dead last in the league with just 30 points in the standings. This will be the last Kraken game before the All-Star break, though, so it feels like a trap.
I expect Burakovsky to be back in the lineup soon but am less optimistic about Schultz and Schwartz. Burakovsky warmed up against Colorado before being scratched, so that would indicate his injury isn’t too severe. Although the team has not released any details on Schultz and Schwartz, they have each missed multiple games. Even if they could play, resting Schultz and Schwartz this week before the All-Star break might be the best play here.
Player Performance / Stick Taps
Ryan Donato (SEA) – The injury to Schwartz has allowed Donato to play further up the lineup and he is seizing it. He has three goals in the last two games and is currently on pace for 21 goals on the season.
Clayton Keller (ARI) – There have not been a lot of bright spots for the Coyotes this season, but Keller is one of them. He scored a hat trick against the Golden Knights on Sunday in a 4-1 win. Thanks Clayton.
Vitek Vanecek (NJD) – The “former” Kraken netminder had two wins in two starts and posted a .931 save percentage in those two games last week for the New Jersey Devils. If you do not know the story about Vitek, he was drafted by Seattle in the NHL Expansion Draft, but when the Kraken signed Grubauer in free agency a week later, Vanecek became expendable. The Kraken traded him back to the Capitals for a second-round draft pick.
Goal of the week
Chart of the week
What should be obvious by now, the Seattle Kraken are the second-most-improved team in the league.
Thanks again for all your engagement and questions on these posts. If you have anything you want me to look into, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.